Baby girl's first year includes heart transplant

Angelica Vizcaino of Riverbank doesn't look like a child who had a heart transplant when she was 3 months old.

She has only a faint scar on her chest, and her face often lights up with her quick smile and happy disposition.

Her parents, Monique Lozano and Miguel Vizcaino, celebrated her first birthday with a family gathering Tuesday at a Riverbank park.

"I'm surprised she is such a happy baby," her mother said. "With everything she has been through, you would think she would be moody or irritable."

Angelica was born in April 2009 missing an artery between her lungs and the right side of her heart, which was severely undeveloped.

Doctors did what they could for her at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, where she was born. She was transferred in early June to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

Her cardiologists determined a heart transplant was her only hope, but her parents were told it could take at least eight months to get a compatible donor organ.

Heart donors usually are people who have suffered a fatal head injury without damage to their other organs. Those injuries are not common among young children, who live under the protective care of parents.

Through circumstances still unknown to Angelica's parents, a heart became available for the Riverbank girl within six weeks. Surgeons performed the transplant July 16.

"About a quarter of kids who are listed for a transplant never make it," said

Dr. Daniel Bernstein, co-director of the Children's Heart Center at Packard. "She was very fortunate we found a donor who was a good match for her in a short period of time."

As all this was going on, Monique Lozano's father became gravely ill from the effects of a liver transplant done in early 2009. His body was rejecting the liver and he was involved in a car crash. He died from a brain hemorrhage July 3.

"It was very stressful and emotional," Lozano said. "I couldn't believe I was going through something so crazy."

Angelica's transplant surgery went remarkably well. She was out of the hospital in two weeks but still needed to be near the children's hospital in case of complications.

Precautions necessary

The family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto until the end of November. Lozano's 8-year-old daughter, Anastasia, took a break from school and did independent study with the help of tutors at the hospital.

The parents have to take precautions with Angelica. For three months, while her surgery wound healed, they could not put their hands under her arms to pick her up.

In October, an episode with rejection required Angelica to return to the hospital for treatment.

A checkup in Palo Alto last week still revealed slight rejection, which means she is staying on her 13 oral medications daily. Because her immune system is compromised, her parents have their daughter wear a mask if they take her out in public.

Mom and dad check her blood pressure every day. Lozano added that her daughter is prone to coming down with fevers.

"If her temperature is 99, I'm calling the doctor," she said.

Angelica has been slow to develop motor skills. She started crawling late, though it's now one of her favorite activities.

She also likes to swing and is very active with her baby talk. "She verbalizes a lot," her father said. "There are times when you can't calm her down."

About 350 children are given heart transplants in the United States every year. The Packard center does five to seven heart transplants for infants each year. Some of the patients have been newborns.

According to national figures, slightly more than 90 percent of children receiving transplanted hearts survive for one year; the survival rate is above 85 percent at five years.

Bernstein said the numbers are better for young patients at Packard.

"We have new medications that are a lot safer," he said. "We used to have patients who died from complications of medications but now it isn't happening. We have better treatments for patients who have infections."

Angelica's parents are encouraged when they hear of pediatric transplant patients who have graduated from college and are raising families.

"I want my daughter to grow up to be a strong-willed person and hope she doesn't think of herself as someone who can't have everything that she wants," Lozano said.

"I hope she will be thankful that somebody was willing to donate a heart for her."

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or 578-2321.